A Taiwanese Leopard Confirmed Extinct, is Now “Unextinct”

Taiwanese Formosan clouded leopard

The Formosan clouded leopard is a subspecies from the leopards of South East Asia and is indigenous to the mountains of Taiwan. The Formosan clouded leopard was Taiwan’s second-largest carnivore, next to the Formosan black bear. Due to widespread logging of the leopard’s natural habitat, the leopard was forced to retreat into the Jade and Tawu mountains. In 1986, 70 indigenous hunters reported that the last confirmed sighting of the Formosan clouded leopard occurred in Tawu Mountain area in 1983.

A decade later, pugmarks (a term used to describe the footprint of most animals) were recorded in the late 1990s near Taiwan’s Yushan National Park. The pugmark was suspected of being made by the Formosan clouded leopard subspecies, but could not be confirmed by experts. Zoologists from Taiwan and the U.S. carried out a 13-year long survey. They used 13,000 camera traps in the Tawu Mountains, to help discover the leopard, but failed to observe a single sighting of the obscure cat. Scientists promptly declared it officially extinct in 2013.

Aboriginal wearing Formosan clouded leopard skin

In June of 2018, Kao Cheng-chi, President of the Association of the Austronesian Community College Development Association, and the village chief of the Paiwan Tribe, shared that the Alangyi Village had set up a team of rangers to patrol traditional areas. As a result, these rangers publically revealed last week that in January 2019, there were two sightings of the feline. Referred to as “Li’uljaw” by the Paiwan people, one patrol observed a leopard climbing a tree before sprinting up a rock face to hunt goats. The other forest patrol described seeing a leopard darting past a scooter before dashing up a tree and going out of sight.

In an interview with Focus Taiwan News Channel, Pan Chih-hua, the Alangyi Village Conference Chairman, confirmed the rangers spotted the Formosan clouded leopard. He added he couldn’t disclose the exact time and location of the sightings. In Paiwan culture, the Formosan clouded leopard represents the spirit of great ancient warriors, and hunting the animal is prohibited, said Pan Chih-hua.  As a result of the sightings, members of the Alangyi Village held a tribal meeting to investigate further. Currently, hunting is banned in the area, and Alangyi Village elders requested the Forestry Bureau to stop logging and engaging in other disruptive activities.

Thanks to the logging and hunting ban in the Tawu Mountains in the area where the Formosan clouded leopard was spotted, this feline’s population should become more apparent. It is critical that governments and villagers continue to support these discoveries and aid the Leopard in its natural habitat. This majestic animal, quietly returning to the mountains of Taiwan, gives a small glimpses of hope for the future and makes one wonder what else may roam free and unknown.

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